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Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA)

On March 13, 2012, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) released a Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) that evaluates the potential environmental effects of the FCC’s Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) program. The PEA consists, among other things, of WTB: 1) considering alternatives to address potential environmental effects; and 2) considering whether a more extensive analysis, in the form of a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, may be required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), under each of the alternatives.

Background

The Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) is in response to a determination of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in American Bird Conservancy v. FCC. The court found that the FCC had not adequately evaluated the potential effects that the Antenna Structure System (ASR) program has on threatened and endangered species and migratory birds.

On November 12, 2010, the FCC released a Public Notice to seek comments from the public on the effects of the Antenna Structure Registration System (ASR) program.

On August 26, 2011, WTB released a draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA), and sought comments on the draft PEA.

Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA)

On March 13, 2012, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) released a Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA). The Final PEA includes various proposals to keep or revise the existing Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) program. Because WTB cannot choose for the Commission which proposal to select, the Final PEA does not include a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Instead, WTB intends to recommend to the Commission a further notice of proposed rulemaking to invite comment on what actions the Commission should take to comply with NEPA in light of the analysis in the Final PEA. At the conclusion of the rulemaking, based on the record that is developed, the Commission will either issue a FONSI or initiate further environmental processing.

1) No Action Alternative: This proposal would continue the existing ASR program and NEPA compliance procedures, but would eliminate the interim requirement that an applicant complete an Environmental Assessment (EA) for any tower over 450 feet. Under the current program, an EA is required under the circumstances found in 47 C.F.R. Section 1.1307.

The final PEA finds that this proposal would have no significant effect on the environment at the national level, but individual towers may have unaddressed significant effects on migratory birds and Bald and Golden Eagles but there may be instances in which potentially significant impacts to a local population of migratory birds, Bald Eagles, or Golden Eagles from a proposed tower would not be addressed.

2) Alternative 1: This proposal is the same as the No Action Alternative, but assumes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will change its permitted lighting configurations so future towers that use red flashing lights would not also have red steady-burning lights.

The final PEA finds that this proposal would have no significant effect on the environment at the national level, but individual towers may have unaddressed significant effects on migratory birds and Bald and Golden Eagles but there may be instances in which potentially significant impacts to a local population of migratory birds, Bald Eagles, or Golden Eagles from a proposed tower would not be addressed.

3) Alternative 2: This proposal includes three options. Each option would revise the ASR program and NEPA compliance procedures to include more comprehensive environmental assessments, particularly for potential effects to migratory birds.

Option A: This option would require an EA for all new registered towers outside of an antenna farm. An EA would also be required for towers in an antenna farm, replacement towers, and modifications of existing towers if there is a substantial increase in size over the existing tower or towers.

The final PEA finds that this proposal would have no significant impact on the environment at the national level, and that site-specific EAs would address potentially significant local impacts.

Option B: This option would require an EA for all new towers outside of an antenna farm AND for towers in an antenna farm, replacement towers, and modifications to existing towers if there is a substantial increase in size over the existing tower or towers, if they:

  • Would require an EA under Section 1.1307 of the FCC’s existing rules;
  • Would be constructed in an important eagle use area; or
  • Are located on ridgelines or in coastal zones, bird staging areas, colonial nesting sites, or Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, AND are more than 450 feet tall (137 meters), use guy wires, or use a red steady-burning lighting scheme

The final PEA finds that this proposal would have no significant impact on the environment at the national level, and that site-specific EAs would address potentially significant local impacts.

Option C:  This option would require an EA for all new registered towers outside of an antenna farm, as well as towers in an antenna farm, replacement towers, and modifications to existing towers if there is a substantial increase in size over the existing tower or towers, if they:

  • Would require an EA under Section 1.1307 of the existing rules; or
  • Are more than 450 feet (137 meters) tall

The final PEA finds that this proposal would have no significant effect on the environment at the national level, but there may be instances in which potentially significant impacts to a local population of migratory birds, Bald Eagles, or Golden Eagles from a proposed tower would not be addressed.

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